Influence of parents and friends on overweight and normal-weight children's and adolescents' food choices
Elmo, Alison B.
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Although most eating occurs in a social context, little is known about the developmental trajectory of the effects of social influences on children' and adolescents' eating behavior. In fact, the literature on the influence of parents and friends on children's and youth's food intake and food selection have developed in virtual isolation from each other. The present experiment compared the effects of mothers and friends on food intake in 5 and 6, and 13 and 14 year old youth. Participants had access to a variety of healthy and unhealthy meal, snack and beverage options and were invited to share a meal with their mother and with a friend on two separate occasions. Participants had a greater total energy and greater intake of high-calorie for nutrient (HCFN) foods with their friend than with their mother. Mother's verbal encouragement negatively predicted participants' intake of HCFN foods, but not their consumption of low-calorie for nutrient (LCFN) foods. Age and condition predicted the participant's intake of LCFN foods. Participants consumed more LCFN foods when eating with their mother than when eating with their friend. Adolescents consumed more HCFN and LCFN foods than children most likely due to the difference in energy requirements for the two age groups. Males consumed more total energy than females. These findings suggest that friends operate in a different way than mothers on children and adolescents' eating behaviors.